Rockets Stun Lakers in Game 1
Total team effort lifts Houston to 100-92 victory
Houston's big-little combo of Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks was dynamite Monday night, helping to lift Houston to a stunning Game 1 victory in LA.
Rockets.com Staff Writer
Los Angeles - Shocked and distraught Lakers fans began lurching their way toward the exits with a few minutes remaining Monday night, right around the time a local reporter was overheard admitting her story had been ruined; so unprepared was she for even the mere possibility of a Rockets Game 1 win. Perhaps such is life in Hollywood, where the Lakers dominance is so taken for granted that even their games and their supposedly preordained victories can be scripted beforehand.
Yet someone forgot to inform the Rockets that they were supposed to lie down and play the willing victim, so Houston instead crafted its own blockbuster ending, stunning the Lakers by posting an incredibly impressive 100-92 victory in the first game of their Western Conference semi-final match-up. In the heros role was Yao Ming, who shook off a frightening-looking but ultimately harmless knee injury late in the game to lead his club with team-highs in both points (28) and rebounds (10).
I dont know what our trainer did to Yao but he was like Rocky coming back out there, said Rockets head coach Rick Adelman after the game. We really needed him on the court.
Sure enough, Yao responded to his teams call by only missing a mere 54 seconds of game-time after knocking knees with Kobe Bryant on the latters full-steam-ahead foray into the lane with little more than five minutes remaining in a contest separated by only 6 points at the time. Houstons All-Star center limped off the floor in agony, yet didnt miss a beat upon his return, as he proceeded to score 6 of his clubs next 8 points, helping the Rockets put the finishing touches on one of their finest performances of the season.
I was proud of (Yao), said Ron Artest, who delivered the goods in Game 1 as well, scoring 21 points while dishing out a game-high 7 assists. He didnt even make it to the training room. Time was of the essence. Every second was killing him not to be on the bench or on the floor. He came right out and I was just so proud of him. He showed so much courage and knew that we needed him.
But Yao wasnt the only Rockets player who got roughed up in what turned out to be an extremely physical affair Monday night. Shane Battier took his lumps too, requiring four stitches to close a gash he received when Sasha Vujacic recklessly swiped for a rebound but instead came in contact with nothing but the left side of Battiers face. Still, that wound did nothing to inhibit Battiers superb defense on Bryant, who led all scorers with 32 points yet required a whopping 31 shots to reach that number.
We were trying to keep (Bryant) from getting to the rim, explained Adelman while discussing Houstons defensive strategy. We have a lot of stats that we look at and its pretty obvious that we he gets to the rim its really difficult for the other team. So we were trying to just flood the lane and be really active. It was kind of similar with what we did with Portland and Brandon Roy, except Kobe is much more aggressive at getting to the rim than Roy was.
One thing about Shane that I really appreciate and I dont think people understand is he has a really good understanding that hes not going to shut Kobe down. He knows its not going to happen. I always give the example of when I had Buck Williams in Portland he used to play Karl Malone and these other guys and hed say, I know Im not going to shut them down, but Im going to make him work for everything. (Shane is) going to send (Kobe) to the right spot, knowing where hes going to have help and thats crucial. If you dont do that, if you dont understand what were trying to do, then hes going to really hurt us. So its very important and we count on that a lot.
Battier, meanwhile, had little desire to bask in the glow of his or his teams performance after the game. He was already focused on the next task at hand.
Honestly, he said, The first thing we said when we came into the locker room was, OK, good job guys - lets get Game 2, too.
Houston certainly shouldnt lack for confidence heading into that tilt, even though Los Angeles is certain to up its game Wednesday night as well. The Rockets figure to receive a huge boost from finally exorcising the fourth quarter demons which had tormented them all year against the Lakers; an especially impressive feat given the fact Los Angeles made its inevitable run in the final frame, taking the lead with 8:19 to go on a pair of Shannon Brown free throws. But instead of fading down the stretch as they had during their four regular season meetings with LA, the Rockets immediately responded with a 9-0 run keyed by a three-point play from Artest and two huge buckets by Aaron Brooks (19 points).
A big play by Ron, agreed Adelman. He made that jumper and got fouled. From that point on, we were able to get some things happening offensively with Aaron and everything. That was important. Thats what scared me when Yao went down hes kind of our anchor they have to worry about. But I think our guys are very determined. Again, the way they played in the last series, the way they approached these two days leading up to this game, these guys are going to play. Its just a matter of having people step up in the last eight minutes of the game like Kobe steps up for them. You need someone to step up and we had that tonight.
As a result, the Rockets are now the proud owners of a 1-0 series lead, something few outside the Houston locker room deemed possible heading into the evening. But the Rockets never did sweat their status as underdogs; a term Yao only just recently added to his lexicon.
Thats a word I just learned a couple days ago, he said, before pausing to put Houstons big win in perspective. Its just like the NBA says: Where amazing happens.
Indeed, Houston's win provides further proof that this Rockets team is capable of just about anything these days - perhaps even something as novel as provding the aformentioned suddenly-scrambling reporter with a fresh, new angle. After all, Cinderella stories always go over big in Hollywood, right?
On his teams performance:
Just a great win for us. Give our guys a lot of credit. They came in with the right attitude at the very start of the game. They came in aggressive. I thought we got backed off a little bit in the third quarter, but from the middle of the third on we really played well, really played well as a team.
on knowing how to handle the end of the game:
We thought we could play well. We talked about it. We saw four games of what happened. We knew Kobe was going to turn it up. We knew everything. I got to give Aaron Brooks a lot of credit. He came in and I told him at the start of the third, the first time out of the third quarter, that hes got to get more aggressive. Hes got to make things happen for us and attack them. And he did that.
And I dont know what our trainer did to Yao but he was like Rocky coming back out there. We really needed him on the court. We made free throws down the stretch when we had to, and I just cant say enough about our team and their attitude coming into this game.
On the defense on Kobe:
We were trying to keep him from getting to the rim. He put his head down and got there at the end of the game but that was our goal: Make him take jump shots and not let him get to the rim. We have a lot of stats that we look at and its pretty obvious that we he gets to the rim its really difficult for the other team. So we were trying to just flood the lane and be really active. It was kind of similar with what we did with Portland and Brandon Roy, except Kobe is much more aggressive at getting to the rim than Roy was.
One thing about Shane that I really appreciate and I dont think people understand is he has a really good understanding that hes not going to shut Kobe down. He knows its not going to happen. I always give the example of when I had Buck Williams in Portland he used to play Karl Malone and these other guys and hed say, I know Im not going to shut them down, but Im going to make him work for everything. And hes going to send him to the right spot, knowing where hes going to have help and thats crucial. If you dont do that, if you dont understand what were trying to do, then hes going to really hurt us. So its very important and we count on that a lot.
on the Rockets resilience:
Our team has been so terrific at maintaining that, ever since we got this group together. With everything that happened to us we started building our defense and we got better and better and better. We have guys who put it out there on the line, they know what their jobs are and they commit to it. I think thats the biggest thing.
on the Rockets defensive attitude:
All we talk about the last series, too is OK, were going to start this game off but we must get better as the game progresses defensively. The more you see a team, the more you see what theyre going to do, the more you understand as a team what you have to do. Its going to be totally different the next game, we know that. These guys are going to play much better and were going to have to come out with the same type of attitude that we had tonight.
A big play by Ron he made that jumper and got fouled. From that point on, we were able to get some things happening offensively with Aaron and everything. That was important. Thats what scared me when Yao went down hes kind of our anchor they have to worry about. But I think our guys are very determined. Again, the way they played in the last series, the way they approached these two days leading up to this game, these guys are going to play. Its just a matter of having people step up in the last 8 minutes of the game like Kobe steps up for them. You need someone to step up and we had that tonight.
on his knee and tonights performance:
My knee feels fine, thanks for asking. Theres no need to worry about it, I just need to put ice on it. Tonight I think my team had a great night. Everybody came out with a very active attitude. I think Ron Artest and Shane Battier did a great job on guarding Kobe. Everybody played very unselfish and I think Aaron Brooks at the second half made a big turn for us against their guards. I think thats one of the best games he has had.
whether or not he thinks Ron Artest is smart basketball player:
Tonight after I leave this building I will yell Ron is a smart player, Ron is a smart player, Ron is a smart player. Everybody has their own talents; his talents are his strength, his shooting, and his post-ups. He uses that well and thats why hes a smart player.
on his thoughts when he went down because of his knee and if he thought he could come back:
Theres nothing to worry about. When I got hit, I knew I couldve come back, I just felt so sore. Ive had that before. I felt that I just needed a minute or two to let the soreness go away. I just felt so bad at that moment but I know Im fine.
On whether he felt like a big underdog coming into the game:
Well thats a word I just learned a couple days ago. Its just like the NBA says: Where amazing happens.
We have to trust everybody, play together and play tough and unite together. Thats how we played after the trade and through the first round, and I think thats a very, very awesome locker room; we have very good chemistry in there and everybody is playing together.
We knew it had to be a knuckleball sort of game a spitball, dirty game. We are not going to run with these guys, they are so good offensively that we had to muck it up. And we did a great job just controlling tempo and we finally made plays in the fourth quarter which is unlike the other four games we played them this year.
Honestly the first thing we said when we came into the locker room was, OK, good job guys - lets get Game 2, too. We just want to be playing good basketball and the thing about this series is we have so many games so quick, there is not going to be a lot of time to revel in this win unlike the game 1 in Portland.
on Yaos return to game:
Well we know the big fellow, hes tough so while there was initial concern we knew hed be back unless it was really, really bad.
on their defensive effort:
We did a great job team defense tonight every time he came up with a pick-and-roll we had a guy there to make him think about passing the ball. He still scored 32 points so there is room for improvement. Overall we did a very good job of making a wall.
There was a period in the fourth where it was like déjà vu to the fans who have watched us play. But we stayed with it we just continued to play, they pressured us we tried to run plays all the way through and listen to coach, and we were really composed. We said if anything we didnt want to lose our composure out there and thats what happened.
on Aaron Brooks:
He controlled the game I was really proud of him. When hes playing bad or hes in a frenzy I get on him, when hes playing well I praise him, hes the reason why we won him and Yao.
Its not a big deal, like I said even when we lose its not a big deal when things are going bad its not a big deal. We dont have home court advantage so if we go to the Finals its 7 games every series its 28 games. You look at 1 out of 28 or 1 out of 7 its not that big a deal.
I was proud of him. He didnt even make it to the training room. Time was of the essence. Every second was killing him not to be on the bench or on the floor. He came right out and I was just so proud of him. He showed so much courage and knew that we needed him.
Ive got to use my quickness to get my shot off. I know Im not as tall as other players, but thats my game. Weve got so many weapons its hard to key on one person so even if I didnt have a shot, I could find Yao or Ron in the post.
Thats why the series can turn. Every game we played against the Lakers this year we struggled in the 4 th quarter to get some things done and we know that is a point of emphasis for us we understand thats been a point of strength for them so its up to us to be better in the 4 th quarter. If we do that were going to find ourselves s in opportunities where the game is close like tonight and when youre on the road and you have a chance to win its a special place to be. So we took full advantage of that opportunity in game one.
on tonights game:
Well, that was no surprise to us. I dont think to me, at least. But the outcome of that game, you know, its not as bad as it seems. Were okay. We feel confident well come back and give a good effort on Wednesday night.
on what hurt the Lakers:
I thought we took tough shots. We fell into some of the things they wanted us to do. Thats obvious. Little things. Free throw shooting. Some of the fast breaks we had that didnt pan out for us four of them or so that really were efforts that we didnt complete or else we made mistakes on. An offensive foul on a couple. Those are things that well have to remedy. Those are things that are a little bit slip-up from not playing.
on the success of Aaron Brooks:
Yeah, he got to the baseline really quick on us a couple drives and slipped that ball in and it broke us down in a couple situations. His quickness hurt us.
on Brooks performance in tonights game:
I think he used his quickness. We didnt do a good job. We lost two or three possessions and we needed to get some stops. We broke through and got some lay-ups but were just blowing defensive assignments.
on never breaking through in this first game of the series:
We just blew some defensive assignments and key moments. We missed a rotation here and there, gave up baskets and points, and good looks; thats something that we can not do and make a run. You have to make them take at least contested shots, so that is something that we have to correct.
on what he needs to communicate to the team in preparing for the next game:
It is one game. Everybody is disappointed that we lost and so are we, but there is nothing much that we can do about it now. We are a good road team; we believe that we can win anywhere. We just have to bounce back Wednesday and go from there.
We didnt shoot the ball well for the first time in a long time, got off to a slow start and they got the lead. We dont want to give up ten point leads at home. We cut it down I think once to a tie game, but they did a good job. They made big shots.
on the importance of defense:
You miss you miss but when you do miss you have to get better defensively. This is a game where we have to get a little tougher defensively to keep those guys out of the game.
It had a lot to do with refs but I also think we had too much time off and we kind of got out of sync. Tomorrows practice is one well attack and work a lot on execution and defensive schemes.
Obviously this wasnt the way we wanted to start a series and we werent as sharp as we should have been. We didnt knock down a lot of our shots and we had a couple of breakdowns defensively. Its tough to play worse than that. We didnt play like ourselves the way we usually play, the way we move the ball, we didnt communicate on defense and thats why they had so many open jumpers and that penetration. I think we can play a lot better than that. They did a good job and earned the victory.
on tonights officiating:
There were a lot of questionable call thats for sure but there are some aspects of the game that you cannot control and you just have to play through it. You hope that those calls go your way but sometimes they dont and you just have to continue to compete. In a game so close like this one was most of the time any and every call is crucial.
Some of the time we didnt execute our defensive assignments right and they took advantage. Yao stretched the floor a little bit. He stepped out and knocked down the open jump shot. We just have to tighten up. Its definitely a wakeup call. You never want to lose in the first game of the series but well be fine. Well come back in go to work tomorrow and come out ready for game two.